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Punishment Park (1971)

 -  Drama | Thriller  -  1980 (West Germany)
8.0
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Ratings: 8.0/10 from 3,803 users  
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"Punishment Park" is a pseudo-documentary purporting to be a film crews's news coverage of the team of soldiers escorting a group of hippies, draft dodgers, and anti-establishment types ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Patrick Boland ...
First Tribunal Defendant
Kent Foreman ...
Defendant in the tribunal
...
Jay Kaufman, Tribunal Defendant
Luke Johnson ...
Defendant in the tribunal
Katherine Quittner ...
Nancy Smith
...
James Arthur Kohler, Tribunal Defendant
Stan Armsted ...
Charles Robbins
Mary Ellen Kleinhall ...
Allison Mitchner
Mark Keats ...
William C. Hoeger, Tribunal Chairman
Gladys Golden ...
Mary Jurgens, Tribunal Member
Sanford Golden ...
Sen. Harris
George Gregory ...
Mr. Keagan
Norman Sinclair ...
Alfred J. Sully - Tribunal Member
Sigmund Rich ...
Prof. Hazlett
Paul Rosenstein ...
Paul Reynolds - Tribunal Member
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Storyline

"Punishment Park" is a pseudo-documentary purporting to be a film crews's news coverage of the team of soldiers escorting a group of hippies, draft dodgers, and anti-establishment types across the desert in a type of capture the flag game. The soldiers vow not to interfere with the rebels' progress and merely shepherd them along to their destination. At that point, having obtained their goal, they will be released. The film crew's coverage is meant to insure that the military's intentions are honorable. As the representatives of the 60's counter-culture get nearer to passing this arbitrary test, the soldiers become increasingly hostile, attempting to force the hippies out of their pacifist behavior. A lot of this film appears improvised and in several scenes real tempers seem to flare as some of the "acting" got overaggressive. This is a interesting exercise in situational ethics. The cinéma vérité style, hand-held camera, and ambiguous demands of the director - would the actors be ... Written by Dick Rockwell <dr1orok@atlas.moa.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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1980 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Punishment Park  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Whole movie was filmed using Eclair 16 mm camera. Theather cut and the version for released DVD is been blown up to 35 mm film. See more »

Goofs

In her tribunal closing statement, Alison Mitchner makes reference to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, and uses the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". This phrase is in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. See more »

Quotes

James Daly, Defense Attorney: Ladies and Gentlemen of the tribunal, I would like to read you something: "The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might and the republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order or our nation cannot survive". We might all be forgiven for supposing those to be the words of our President. But they are not. Those words...
[...]
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Crazy Credits

There are no opening credits at all. The title doesn't appear until halfway through the closing credits. See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Punishment Is Worth It *Spoilers*
14 March 2006 | by (the outer reaches of your mind) – See all my reviews

Set in a California detention camp in an indistinct future, an English film crew capture proceedings as young students and political dissidents are put on trial under a fictional 'Insurrection Act' that allows the United States government to suspend civil liberties for its own citizens in cases of emergency without the right to bail or the necessity of evidence. In such cases the government is authorised to apprehend and detain anyone they believe may engage in future activities of sabotage. The group on trial includes a feminist, a black panther and a folk singer.

Those convicted by the a Conservative tribunal have the choice of a lengthy prison sentence or three days in Punishment Park, in which they can attain their freedom by reaching an American flag in the desert. They must accomplish this without food or water. They are also to be pursued by armed National Guards and police who can return them to the camp if captured to face the penal sentence attributed to each person convicted. The reality is different; those that choose Punishment Park are hunted and killed or brutalised with no hope of gaining their freedom after a policeman is found dead in the park. The park seems to be a training ground for the police and guards who need to master these acts of suppression so they can be put to use in open American society.

Shot on 16mm and in the documentary style developed by Watkins, in his celebrated Culloden and the controversial The War Game for the BBC; he interacts with the prisoners and guards and observes the unconstitutional trial, inter cutting between them to create a totally convincing political movie that still remains vital and relevant. Using his knowledge of the medium, Watkins has produced a driving, relentless and ultimately frightening film portrayal of an entirely fictional American political detention camp that would not convince if it wasn't for his flawless construction. Many of the actors are amateurs improvising with broad characters. The sparks fly in the trial scenes in which each case is heard, in part to the fact that Watkins kept those on trial away from the jury until the filming of those scenes. Watkins also claims that the actors are often expressing their own opinions which certainly explain the ferocity as well as the believability of their performances.

The film has been heavily criticised for polarising the opinions of those that see it. It has been claimed that the film is reactionary and unequivocally represents that conservatism and war are the root of America's social problems. While these criticisms may be valid it is important to consider that the film is working on a fictional, metaphorical level and it is perhaps the realism that the film so cleverly constructs that encourages such a heated opinion on its content. In fact the films most important theme is the problem of polarisation itself. The 'conservative' judges and brutal law officers are on one side and the 'liberal' convicts are clearly on the other with no concessions made on either side. This seems to be what the movie is really about. The new law and the park itself is the outgrowth of a situation where mediation between the two political positions has been lost.

Made during and in protest to the Vietnam War and the treatment of those who opposed the war in America the films main themes of Governmental persecution of its own citizens and Conservatism impinging on civil liberties still strike the same chord in the era of the Patriot act and the identity card. It also strikes a disturbing chord with news footage of Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of Allied forces.

The threat of internal 'terrorism' is such a volatile issue that the film cannot fail to connect with current attitudes to the subject. Not surprisingly the film has had a checkered distribution history, being marginalised to an extreme due to its content but the disturbing fact that this movie is that can still remain so relevant today suggests that the wait has not been for nothing. Punishment Park is a film that has had to fight to be seen anywhere and it demands your attention.


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